The Bartlett Development Planning Unit
  • Follow our posts

  • A A A

    Cultura Negada: Reflecting on Racialised Urban Violence and Practices of Resistance in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

    By Federica Risi, on 9 July 2018

    Prominent academic debates around violence in the city most often seem to be concerned with how structural economic and political drivers codify violence into the urban space. To appropriate Harvey’s terminology, with how urbanisation by dispossession – in other words marginalisation – of urban groups contributes to increasing crime rates and gangs-related violence. It is only in recent decades that ‘institutional’ abuse  – perpetrated by police forces under the blind eye of the Hobbesian state – as well as more structural forms of selective and – most often –  race-based violence are confronted[1]. And yet as a category of analysis of the urban, violence emerges as a causally less linear and more nuanced construct.

    Measurability of course is an issue and deserves being questioned. What indicators are taken into account when defining urban violence? What types of data are considered? Who collects them? How are they read and  disseminated? The action research conducted in Salvador, as part of the MSc Social Development Practice overseas field trip, has evidenced how municipal – and national – indexes reflecting increasing rates of homicides as related to organised-crime, robbery and drug trafficking overlook important aspects of the realities of violence lived everyday by vulnerable urban communities. Vulnerability on its end also warrant a discussion on methodology. Drawing from the Participatory Action Research (PAR) tradition in urban planning, vulnerability is here understood as socially (re)produced and as related to asset ownership (Moser, 1996; drawing on Sen, 1981) and the capacity to cope with shocks; whether environmental, economic, political or all of these combined.

    In this blog series, I undress some reflections on how Salvador, the blackest city of Brazil, epitomises such a nuanced appreciation of how violence is urbanised, that is, how it becomes spatially codified in the city;  and in turn is itself an agent of urbanisation. Graffiti[2] is offered as an entry point for the analysis.

     

    Aesthetics of inequality. View of Saramandaia, Salvador, Brazil.


    In context..

    The Bahian capital is a city of contrasts and embodies the clash between the gentrifying force of globalisation as it manifests in the built environment and locally grounded social action reclaiming identity as forgotten history. Identity as ethnicity. Identity as part of the rich African heritage of Brazil and its institutional neglecting. As Kwame Dixon (2016) aptly elucidates in his book Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, the country abolished legal slavery in 1888, but provided no institutional mechanism to free former slaves from racial discrimination. Almost a hundred years later, when Brazil returned to democracy in the 1980s, burgeoning blocos afros[3], black social and political movements revendicating Afro-Diasporic consciousness emerged to seek racial justice and equality, to claim their ‘right to the city’ as a right to live and exist in the city.

     

    Despite having one of the oldest and largest black populations of the Americas, Salvador has never elected a black mayor nor has the Bahian State chosen a black governor to date (Dixon, 2016). And, if urban violence seems to follow the racial and spatially confined pattern of poverty in the city, with residents of majority black, poverty-stricken neighbourhoods being more likely to be killed than their better-off, white neighbours (Chaves Viana et al, 2011; Huggings, 2004); institutional memory as well as public opinion as shaped by the media exert more intangible, narrative forms of violence on these vulnerable groups. These narrative forms of dispossessions become activating agents of citizenship and identity revindication from within the city.

    “Minha Vida” – My Life. Graffiti in Barra District, Salvador, Brazil.


    I wanted to talk about cultural syncretism, I ended up taking about violence…

    It would be amiss to document and account for the richness and multitude of cultural manifestations in Salvador without engaging with how these are shaped by violence in the city, and how, in turn, they impinge on it.

    A graffiti tour of Ladeira da Preguiça, literally “Slope of Laziness” helped vividly retrace the institutionalisation of racialised violence in Salvador. In the 17th century, the road, which historically connected the port area[1] (cidade baixa) to the upper city[2] (cidade alta), was used by African slaves to carry goods on their shoulders while being shouted at “to move faster” (Moreira, 2018). With the development of more easily accessible routes in modern[3] Salvador, the Ladeira and its people were abandoned by public power. The area, as a result of its narrow streets and vacant warehouses, slowly lent itself to organised crime and, most recently, to drug-trafficking.

    In recent years, the stigma[1] of violence and insecurity –which is almost as damaging as violence itself– eventually provided the perfect justification for the municipality to push forward a privatisation project that was meant to regenerate –and gentrify– the area. Local moradores (“residents”), however, joined forces and, in 2013, collectively mobilised to rehabilitate the Ladeira, reconstructing collapsed mansions and painting decaying façades with colourful graffiti referencing the African Diaspora; exposing Brazil’s institutionalised culture of exclusion as a means to call for the city to remember and for reclaiming their housing rights. A vibrant cultural centre was founded by residents themselves, Centro Cultural “Que Ladeira é Essa?”, to breath a culture of resistance through art. By calling attention to Brazil’s rich African heritage, the centre offers classes of  capoeira, afro-samba dance and percussions as well as painting and graffiti workshops. Cultural offerings then become an element of aggregation, an instrument for articulating a powerful counter-narrative to deconstruct stereotypes.

    To say that civic action is a reaction to violence would be simplistic and necessarily reductionist. Nevertheless, the tradition of survivalism through art and symbolism[2] has permeated the urbanisation of Salvador as emerging from the oppression and structural exclusion of black populations within the city (for a comprehensive analysis of the evolution of Brazilian popular culture read: Assunção, 2003).

     

    Reflecting on causality

    On the one hand, local practices of resistance rooted in the syncretism of Salvador’s condemned[3] neighbourhoods are an unapologetic expression of resistance to the stereotyping narrative of the city. A violent narrative of violence; one that lexically and imaginatively reduces majority black-afro-descendant communities to urban realities of degradation, crime, and carencias (“deprivations”) . A narrative that is reminiscent of colonial oppression and a revivified vehicle of neoliberal domination.

    Capoeira dancer. Graffiti in Pelourinho.

     

    On the other, it is precisely because of this concatenated cycle of oppression-marginalisation that non-white urban communities find themselves more exposed to violence stemming from their surrounding, built as well as non-built, environments.

     

    In this direction, there is room for critical urban theory to expand its scope to explore how violence – and even more so the fear of it – shapes city making. In fact, if market forces and political discourses are key determining factors in the urbanisation of violence, in its physical as well as narrative manifestations, violence too influences how people (re-)claim the city, how they move inside the city, use collective spaces, build or adapt their houses.

     

    Our co-investigation with local urban collectives and social movements in Salvador has revealed how urban violence and fear thereof shape the social production of urban habitats and community practices around culture, housing, use and production of collective space and mobility. Further considerations and findings from our field trip will be collated in a report produced with our partner, the research group Lugar Comum, and published in the coming autumn.

     

    References

    Assunção, M.R. (2003). “From Slave to Popular Culture: The Formation of Afro-Brazilian Art Forms in Nineteenth-Century Bahia and Rio de Janeiro”. Iberoamericana, Vol.3, No.12, pp.159-176.

    Dixon, K. (2016). Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. University Press of Florida.

    Huggings, M.K. (2000). “Urban Violence and Police Privatization in Brazil: Blended Invisibility”, Social Justice, Vol.27, No.2, Issue 80, Criminal Justice and Globalization at the New Millennium (Summer 2000), pp. 113-134.

    Manco, T., Lost Art, and Neelon, C. (2005). Graffiti Brasil .Thames & Hudson: London.

    Moreira, W (2018). Graffiti Tour, Ladeira da Preguiça. 09/05/2018.

    Moser, C.O.N. (1996). “The asset vulnerability framework: Reassessing urban poverty reduction strategies”. World Development, Vol.26, No.1, January 1998, pp.1-19.

    Moser, C.O.N. (2004). “Urban Violence and Insecurity: an Introductory Roadmap”. Environment and Urbanization, Vol.16, No.2, October 2004.

    Resident. (2018). Interview. Graffiti Tour, Ladeira da Preguiça. 09/05/2018.

    Sen, A. (1981). Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

     

    Federica Risi is the Graduate Teaching Assistant of the MSc Social Development Practice. Herself a DPU graduate from the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development, Federica has experience in participatory action research focused on urban risks. She is also a Research Associate at the Pastoral Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA), where she is conducting an investigation on South-South Cooperation between Peru, Brazil and the Horn region.

    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    [1] Residents reported that identifying as black and “saying you are from the Ladeira, it’s like admitting you are a criminal”, which “[…] stops you to get a job and continue education” (Resident, 09/05/2018).

    [2] Capoeira  and Candomblé rituals for example, emerged as practice for African slaves to compensate for the loss of identity (Assunção, 2003, p.160).

    [3] Carnival Blocks.

    [4] In the sense of being publicly perceived as unsafe and rife with violence.

    [5] Where Portuguese ships would arrive to deliver materials and goods, historically, the part of the city dedicated to commercial activities.

    [6] Here, were established the main government offices and churches; also where the aristocracy resided.

    [7] Referring to the end of Portuguese colonial domination and Brazil’s independence in 1822.

    [8] In the October 2004 No.2 Issue Vol.16 of Environment and Urbanization, with the article ‘Urban Violence and Insecurity: an Introductory Roadmap’,  Caroline O.N. Moser draws on Galtung to extend the notion of violence as going “beyond situations of overt brutality to include more implicit forms such as exploitation, exclusion, inequality and injustice” (p.6). In this sense “…violence [can be] built into the structure [of society,] …show[ing] up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances” (Galtung, 1969 cited in Moser, 2004, p.6).

    [9] Drawings and writings scribbled or painted through a variety of techniques on public walls; “a vehicle for [the excluded] of the city to assert their existence and self-worth, and to do it loudly” (Manco et al., 2005).

     

    Anthropocene and social diversity: an important research agenda

    By Andrea Rigon, on 19 May 2016

    While there are a number of debates on its actual beginning, academics and media have embraced the concept of Anthropocene. The Anthropocene presents humankind as the major geological force contributing to environmental change. This representation of humanity as a single agent produces a compelling narrative about the urgency of global collective action to limit dangerous environmental changes, particularly climate change. This narrative has been effectively used by political leaders to build political capital for global negotiations and efforts aimed at introducing global governance measures on environmental issues.

    Picture Caption 2: World Social Forum 2009: diversity in collective action, Brazil. By: Andrea Rigon

    Picture Caption 2: World Social Forum 2009: diversity in collective action, Brazil. By: Andrea Rigon

    Lovbrand et al. (2015) points out how the merging of social diversity into a single and universal “human agent” produces a ‘post-social ontology’ which fails to analyse unequal social relations. Environmental risk and vulnerability are unequally distributed across the world and so are the responsibilities for ecological destruction and consumption beyond the biosphere carrying capacity.

    Deterministic narratives of apocalyptic futures if no action is taken are coupled with the idea of a unified and single global response led by green economy investments and techno-scientific solutions. This is a paralysing and depoliticised narrative which hides winners and losers, conceals social relations and dynamics, and delegates responsibility even further, resulting in a concentration of power in the name of avoiding a global catastrophe. (Some would say entrusting with additional power those institutions and mechanisms that led to the ecological crisis in the first place).

    By bringing a social diversity perspective into the analysis of global environmental change – which considers gender, ethnicity, class, age, ability, etc. – it is possible to repoliticise the Anthropocene by shifting the focus on the agency of different groups of women and men, the analysis of power relations, and emphasising the centrality of local politics. Critical social science analysing practices and social relations can deconstruct hegemonic narratives, which silences multiple voices, and identify situated practices and the diversity of ways in which women and men engage with environmental challenges.

    Picture Caption 1: Toxic smokes from Dandora dumpsite affects the neighbouring population, Kenya. By: Andrea Rigon

    Picture Caption 1: Toxic smokes from Dandora dumpsite affects the neighbouring population, Kenya. By: Andrea Rigon

    At the same time, the dominant narrative around Anthropocene builds on an epistemology that maintains the nature/humans dichotomy and sees the latter as the masters of nature, separate from it and therefore able to apply a technical fix. Social sciences, and particularly Science and Technology Studies, have criticized this approach, highlighting the social construction of nature and dismantling nature/social boundaries. By highlighting the situated characters of all knowledges, including agroecological, literature on local knowledges in development (Agrawal 1995) has also criticised this distinction. Therefore, a critical engagement with the Anthropocene demands collaboration with other sciences, refuses to see nature as external to society, and calls for a broadening of the “social” in relation to diversity.

    By conceiving social and environmental justice as intrinsically inseparable and by working in an interdisciplinary manner, the DPU is well placed to embark on this agenda and open to more collaboration with other sciences. In particular, the expertise of the DPU’s research cluster Diversity, social complexity & planned intervention is highly relevant. For instance, this new research agenda would benefit from previous analysis of the constraints to the participation and voice of groups and individuals and their unequal access to policy-making spaces. Moreover, it could build upon the insights from the work on relational poverty, particularly the idea that people are poor “because of others” and the need for a wider analysis of the political economy and of the processes that create poverty.

    Being that the Anthropocene is the central conversation of our time, the question is not whether to embark on this research agenda but how. It is about a reflective and reflexive practice in which we cannot escape a critical view of the impact of our behaviours and life choices. The Anthropocene challenges our academic practice and interrogates the legitimacy of a consumption of nature several times beyond our individual fair share (and often hundreds times the one of the communities we co-produce knowledge with). Our ‘professional expertise’ is used to justify our overconsumption (e.g. uncountable intercontinental flights) in the process of knowledge production, implicitly, and perhaps unintentionally, implying the superiority of our knowledge input.


    Andrea Rigon is a lecturer on the MSc Social Development Practice course at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit of University College London. He researches and teaches about social diversity, poverty and inequalities. His recent work analyses how social and political conflicts among different actors shape the implementation of development interventions.

    i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 3 Review

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 10 July 2015

    3.9

    The i-Rec conference 2015 started its final day on Wednesday 8 July with a plenary session, as has been the format for the previous mornings.

    Maggie Stephenson asked what is the relationship between shelter and survivor? – especially in light of post-disaster needs assessments (PDNAs); who decides what people need? Taking the time to discuss what is useful to survivors is therefore essential.

    Rohit Jigyasu looked at attempts to salvage cultural heritage in the wake of the recent Nepalese earthquake. In some cases traditional materials and components, especially windows, held up better than more contemporary counterparts. He is part of an initiative with the Smithsonian Institute that is seeking to ensure that this physical heritage is not lost in the wake of the disaster.

    Having been in Nepal when the second earthquake struck, Sneha Krishnan commented on the role that social networks paid in people’s preparedness when it came. She suggested that some of the early responses imposed by NGOs – such as dividing toilets between men and women, when given the extreme context they were willing to share facilities – were inappropriate. She also witnessed an indecisive response from the state who at some stages were eager to defer to outside help, and at others were very directive in their approach.

    3.1

    Roundtable 4B: Linking disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) with disaster risk recovery and reconstruction

    Ilan Kelman started the session by placing DRR and CCA within a broader framework for sustainable development. He suggested that any reconstruction is done so for the future, which necessarily has to include potential impacts of climate change. As we understand that hazards themselves do not cause disasters, but vulnerability does, the emphasis on sustainability as a key contributor to DRR is brought into sharper focus.

    Drawing on the recurring effects of cyclones in Odisha, India as a case study, Sneha Krishnan argued for the value of learning from previous disasters to build resilience. For her, preparedness is key and the recovery phase is a missing link that has not yet been fully understood.

    Candida Maria Vassallo presented the importance of reconstructing public buildings as a mean of reconstructing normal life. She exemplified this process with the case of the reconstruction of new Swat Archaeological Museum in Saidu Sharif (Pakistan) damaged by 2005 earthquake and 2008 Taliban attack, but the relevance is that this process can be implemented in other contexts thanks to its flexibility and adaptability, which was appreciative of local needs and histories. The discussion that followed revolved around how we might tackle the complexity that inevitably emerges in these situations. A second key discussion point was how to rebuild communities in a way that is not merely ‘back to normal’ but a marked improvement on how thing were.

    3.10

    Roundtable 2D: Planning approaches and strategies for recovery

    The session raised the necessity of longer-term thinking. This was discussed importantly with regards to listening – often to the lessons of history that past disasters have taught us – when planning for the future, and fostering an environment where collaboration and sharing of knowledge is embedded. Different tools and methods to facilitate this, within and outside of project structures, were debated.

    Understanding roles and responsibilities in relation to resources – both financial and human – was also elaborated upon. For example: who does monitoring and documentation,and how? Who decides what is insured and what aspects of the built environment are covered? The session ended with a reflection on the role of the researcher in disaster recovery scenarios, and the contribution of academic work.

    Roundtable 4C: Aspects of resilience and recovery

    One of the key themes of the roundtable was urban resilience and how it may be affected during the process of recovery by the role of the governments and NGOs. An interesting point of discussion asked what methods are used to classify populations in order to address their recovery needs, and can such a method generate tools to help recovery? This pointed to a knowledge gap concerning different types of analytical variables and the importance of developing analytical categories for the underlying social variables.

    The papers generated comparative discussion about the role of the government in the process of recovery and how their initial initiatives and efforts may impact long-term resilience with examples from Yalova in Turkey, Bam in Iran and Assam, India which offered three different interpretations.

    3.6

    Roundtable 2A: Housing and beyond: reconstructing lives, reconstructing cities

    David Alexander presented findings from research into the transitional phase of post-disaster recovery in the cases of Tacloban in The Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan and the Sanriku coast in Japan, after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He concluded that a successful transitional phase requires a pact between the survivors and the government. This could be achieved through information sharing; a clear, simple and robust plan of action; a well-defined timeline for the transitional phase,;and serviceable transitional housing and facilities.

    Charles Parrack talked about urban displacement, comparing community participation in cities and in camps. The objective of the study was to identify gaps for outside of camp strategies developed by the Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster (CCCM). A common theme centres on empowerment and developing social capital, which will be a focus for further research.

    3.11

    Based on her work in Chile and Peru, Elizabeth Wagemann explained how people have adapted post-disaster shelters to convert them into homes. While a temporary shelter is understood to be time limited and the transitional shelter could be understood as an incremental support, both have been modified and adapted by the families, even though they are not designed for this purpose. The study compared the modifications during a five year period.

    Faten Kikano compared different types of shelters used by Syrian refugees in Lebanon over a number of years. She looked back to the shelters adopted by Palestinian refugees sixty years ago for further comparison and questioned whether camps are an effective solution to refugees’ needs. The common focus on the transitional phase in disaster recovery was carried over into the discussion. The panel acknowledged unanimously that we are beyond ‘one size fits all’ solutions.


    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Bernadette Devilat, Julia Wesely, Rachel Valbrun and Jacopo Spatafora for their inputs.

    Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.

    View all i-Rec related blogs, including the summaries of Days 1 & 2 via on this page.

    i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 2 Review

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 8 July 2015

    2.8

    The 2015 i-Rec conference continued on Tuesday 7 July with another packed day.

    The morning keynote panel saw Frederick Kimgold focus on regulatory initiatives to build urban resilience – these include four key components: Regulatory action at the national level, based on a strong legal foundation; improving and enforcing building codes; an emphasis on local implementation; and knowledge sharing at the international level.

    Stephen Platt drew his insights from 10 cases studies. His findings, from disasters in countries as varied as Japan, Turkey and Chile, showed different patterns for human and economic losses. He commented on the successes of the speed of recovery in different places, noting that rapidity, highlighting the case of Turkey, is not always the best way to achieve effective planning outcomes.

    Gerald Paragas analysed the upshot of the Typhoon Haiyan recovery efforts in the Philippines. He emphasised the roles of different actors in these processes and called for continued coordination in order to better harmonise relief and reconstruction with urban processes; recovery should always be city-driven and not donor-driven.

    2.21

    Roundtable 3C: Histories, perceptions, and ethnographies for understanding urban recovery

    The presentations showed cases from in Italy, Guine-Bissau and Chile. The discussions questioned how architects should work in reconstruction – does an absence of specific architectural training in relation to humanitarian aid mean architects should be seen less as designers and more as facilitators embedded within a more holistic process of design and reconstruction?

    Certainly it was acknowledged that better dialogue between communities, architects and humanitarians is essential. Finally the speakers considered the tensions that exist around traditional construction and vernacular architecture. How can these be better understood alongside our own practice?

    2.20

    Roundtable 4A: Integrated Approaches for recovery and resilience

    This session discussed examples from Haiti, Japan, Malawi and the Philippines, where attempts at integration has taken place with differing degrees of success. Time was identified as a key tension, particularly when engaging with communities. Inclusive decision making processes can be long and demand resources. Community vs production-based approaches is a big dilemma that was witnessed Philippines.

    In the case of Malawi dispersed populations added to the time needed for effective local inputs, the knock-on effect being that international organisations are not always able to make the most of local capacity. The conversation therefore turned to post-disaster adaptive resilience and at what point does the transition from recovery to resilience-building take place, and how does this work?

    Roundtable 2C: Challenges, character, and tools for recovery

    These four presentations tackled different solutions around how to make recovery faster and more effective. They looked at logistical challenges faced during the response and early recovery stages following the Canterbury earthquakes; the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as enablers of multiple interactions actors and people involved in recovery and reconstruction; new methods for clearing debris; and how the type of disaster itself can impact the type of reconstruction that takes place.

    2.22

    Roundtable 2B: Community-driven practices

    Four different case studies from Africa, Philippines, Indonesia and Brazil were presented. It was suggested that vulnerability (especially of the urban poor) has always been tackled and studied using a top-down approach. Informal settlements remain almost invisible – therefore researchers and organizations should engage in a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange with the population.

    By doing so, it is possible not only to identify the root causes of local vulnerabilities but also the social resources and capabilities that can contribute to resilience at a local scale. Interventions developed by researchers and NGOs should be community-controlled and should involve all the relevant stakeholders. Moreover statistical measures are recognized as being insufficient to measure community recovery, and this could be revised in order to incorporate local needs and perspectives.

    A series of walking tours, looking at areas of London that have undergone reconstruction and transformation, took place yesterday afternoon

    A series of walking tours, looking at areas of London that have undergone reconstruction and transformation, took place yesterday afternoon

    Roundtable 5A: Relocation from hazardous areas

    Using comparative cases and single in-depth studies, this session took a critical lens on the relationship between hazards, vulnerabilities and risks, and – more broadly – between hazards and development. It was emphasised that relocation efforts have to consider the reasons why people live in hazardous areas in the first place, and why some people refuse to evacuate, move away or eventually return to these unsafe sites.

    A general point that recurred throughout was that relocation is not only about housing, but also livelihoods, infrastructure and basic services, economic opportunities, social networks etc. Post-disaster relocation happens in a situation where people are traumatised and rapid decisions are taken. The challenge is therefore to think beyond just improving post-disaster relocation, but also to consider pre-disaster management of the diverse risks that residents are confronted with.

    Roundtable 5B: Relocation and resettlement strategies

    These four presentations focused on empirical cases that gave insights into some of the challenges of relocation and resettlement. These included attachment to place, and a loss of urban identity through to knock on effects in terms of planning such as urban sprawl and the need to better manage self-build housing within a coherent planning framework.

    It was suggested that in the case of Fukushima, Japan, preparedness has focused chiefly on natural disasters, rather than human induced disaster, which was a reason behind the large number of casualties. In Montserrat, part of the West Indies, a large scale relocation on the small island-state placed a heavy strain on the few health facilities that were well placed to serve the affected population.


    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Jacopo Spatafora, Elizabeth Wagemann, Sneha Krishnan, Serena Tagliacozzo and Julia Wesely for their inputs.

    Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.

    i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 1 Review

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 7 July 2015

    ASC_5948

    The 7th i-Rec conference got underway yesterday. As Cassidy Johnson explained in the introductory session, the network began in 2002 with just 20 people. This year an impressive 120 people are here in London, as the network continues to grow.

    The first keynote session set out some of the key questions to be discussed over the forthcoming days. Allan Lavell asked “does transformation within reconstruction take into consideration the context appropriately?” He elaborated on two modes of reconstruction: expensive retrofitting against disasters on the one hand, and an understanding of reconstruction and recovery in terms of everyday risk on the other.

    Jennifer Duyne focused on the opportunities for reconstruction, suggesting there is a need for more local involvement in devising appropriate solutions to disaster risk reduction (DRR) and reconstruction, particularly in informal settlements. Stronger collaborations between humanitarian and reconstruction agencies could go a long way towards making this a reality.

    Situating the conversation within the urban context, the focus of this year’s event, Graham Saunders asked what does it mean to operationalise a specifically urban DRR and reconstruction? He went on to expand on the opportunities that exist within cities for collaborations across different types of groups and institutions.

    ASC_6032

    Across the three days of the i-Rec 2015 conference there are 14 sessions. the plenary sessions apart,  these are grouped into six thematic roundtables and associated sessions.

    Roundtable 1: Disasters in Urban Contexts

    These conversations focused on the spatial dimensions of ‘the city’ as a space where disasters, and recovery/reconstruction occur. Specifically, what do planning decisions made in one part of the city mean for others? And how can interventions be scaled up? An interesting discussion emerged out of the differences in resilience and the capacity to respond of ‘stress cities’ – which may face a more diverse set of hazards – versus ‘shock cities’, set up to cope with larger, more clearly observed hazards.

    Roundtable 3A: Linking a past, present, and future: histories, urban imaginaries, urban design, and its influences on urban recovery

    Two presentations were made, by Camilla Wirsching Fuentes on open space in San Pedro de la Paz, Chile and by Rachel Valbrun on DRR in post-blitz London and post-earthquake Port-au-Prince. The speakers drew upon their personal connections to recent disasters in these places. In their critiques they drew attention to the trade-offs that seem to exist between urban planning and DRR and recovery, such as the pressing needs for shelter and the benefits of keeping more open space so planning can take place with a longer-term perspective.

    ASC_6014

    Roundtable 6: The role of local governments in recovery

    The four presentations in this session offered some interesting case study examples – from Chile, Iran, New Zealand and the Philippines – with rich empirical evidence on how states performed post-disaster from varying perspectives – researchers, practitioners and varying outcomes. A key topic of conversation centred on who leads the reconstruction in different geographies. Where the local government coordinates this they can be left exposed to blame and criticism if the process in efficient or ineffective, whereas the private sector has different levels of involvement in each of the cases. The fundamental question that the panel were ultimately unable to agree upon was ‘How can reconstruction support local government?’

    Roundtable 3B: Culture, place, and identities in urban disaster recovery

    This Roundtable discussed the connections between people, place, culture and risks. The question of who decides what risk is and what is the perception of risk relates to the question of what is it that forms people’s attachment to place. Culture was discussed as something beyond the built environment and more about the people, not just the monuments – expanding the definition of cultural heritage to include the day-to-day lives and activities of people. In the process of recovery, what role does culture play and what impact does recovery have on culture, especially in the case of displacement?

    143622092933267.jpeg

    Book Launch and Discussion: Shelter after Disaster by Ian Davis

    The first day concluded with a discussion on the publication of a new second edition Ian Davis’ book; the first edition was published in 1978. Ian expressed some of his observations about what has and has not changed in the last 20 years of DRR. Accountability still remains an important topic when considering the range of actors involved in relief and reconstruction efforts. A paternalist idea of what constitutes good practice also remains – the consequences of this include half empty temporary settlements and inappropriate transitional shelters, showing tangible areas that can be improved upon.

    In terms of what has changed though, he sees better cash and rental support, and an appreciation that disasters occur not only in rural areas of developing countries, but in impact developed countries and – importantly in the context of the conversations taking place in this conference – in urban areas. Nevertheless the growing urban populations that have brought more attention to urban risks constitute a formidable challenge that has seen escalating casualties at the hands of natural disasters over the past two decades.

    ASC_6085https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/dpublog/wp-admin/post.php?post=7429&action=edit

    The respondents were also keen to flag up some of the challenges we still face, and have not resolved in this period. These include a need to evolve beyond needs assessments, a reluctance to fully learn and incorporate the lessons of the past, and an observation that so-called transitional settlements invariably remain so, very often becoming permanent.

    In addition new issues, such as rental housing and urban planning, and coordinated technical assistance are now more fully on the agenda. Maggie Stevenson commented that the value of the book is being ‘not about the people, but about us’, asking the critical question: are we doing what we are supposed to do?

    Day 2 is already well underway. You can follow the live updates and conversations via #irec2015 on Twitter, and look out for the day 2 blog tomorrow.


    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Jacopo Spatafora, Garima Jain, Lisa Bornstein, Sneha Krishnan, Rachel Valbrun and Elizabeth Wagemann for their inputs.

    Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.